The Woods Out Back - By R. A. Salvatore

To the memory of J. R. R. Tolkien and to Fleetwood Mac, for giving me elfs and dragons, witches and angels, and for showing me the way to find them on my own.


"You were caught fairly and within the written limits of your own rules," Kelsey said sternly. His sharp eyes, golden in hue and ever sparkling like the stars he so loved, bore into the smaller sprite, promising no compromise.

"Might that it be time for changing the rules," Mickey the leprechaun mumbled under his breath.

Kelsey's golden eyes, the same hue as his flowing hair, narrowed dangerously, his thin brows forming a "V" over his delicate but angular nose.

Mickey silently berated himself. He could get away with his constant private muttering around bumbling humans, but, he reminded himself again, one should never underestimate the sharpness of an elf's ears. The leprechaun looked around the open meadow, searching for some escape route. He knew it to be a futile exercise; he couldn't hope to outrun the elf, standing more than twice his height, and the nearest cover was fully a hundred yards away.

Not a promising proposition.

Always ready to improvise, Mickey went into his best posture for bargaining, a leprechaun's second favorite pastime (the first being the use of illusions to trick pursuing humans into smashing their faces into trees).

"Ancient, they are," the leprechaun tried to explain. "Rules o' catching made for humans and greedy folk. It was meant for being a game, ye know." Mickey kicked a curly-toed shoe against a mushroom stalk and his voice held an unmistakable edge of sarcasm as he completed the thought. "Elfs were not expected in the chase, being honorable folk and their hearts not being held by a pot o' gold. At least, that's what I been told about elfs."

"I do not desire your precious pot," Kelsey reminded him. "Only a small task."

"Not so small."

"Would you prefer that I take your gold?" Kelsey warned. "That is the usual payment for capture."

Mickey gnashed his teeth, then popped his enormous (considering his size) pipe into his mouth. He couldn't argue; Kelsey had caught him fairly. Still, Mickey had to wonder how honest the chase had been. The rules for catching a leprechaun were indeed ancient and precise, and, written by the wee folk themselves, hugely slanted in the leprechaun's favor. But a leprechaun's greatest advantage in evading humans lay in his uncanny abilities at creating illusions. Enter Kelsey the elf, and the advantage is no more. None in all the land of Faerie, not the dwarfs of Dvergamal nor even the great dragons themselves, could see through illusions, could separate reality from fabrication, as well as the elfs.

"Not so small a task, I say," Mickey iterated. "Ye're looking to fill Cedric's own shoes - none in Dilnamarra that I've seen are fitting that task! The man was a giant..."

Kelsey shrugged, unconcerned, his casual stance stealing Mickey's rising bluster. The human stock in Faerie had indeed diminished, and the prospects of finding a man who could fit into the ancient armor once worn by King Cedric Donigarten were not good. Of course Kelsey knew that; why else would he have taken the time to catch Mickey?

"I might have to go over," Mickey said gravely.

"You are the cleverest of your kind," Kelsey replied, and the compliment was not patronizing. "You shall find a way, I do not doubt. Have the faeries you know so well do their dance, then. Surely they owe Mickey McMickey a favor or two."

Mickey took a long draw on his pipe. The fairie dance! Kelsey actually expected him to go over, to find someone from the other side, from Real-earth.

"Me pot o' gold might be an easier barter," the leprechaun grumbled.

"Then give it to me," replied a smiling Kelsey, knowing the bluff for what it was. "And I shall use the wealth to purchase what I need from some other source."

Mickey gnashed his teeth around his pipe, wanting to put his curly boot into the smug elfs face. Kelsey had seen his bluff as easily as he had seen through Mickey's illusions on the lopsided chase. No leprechaun would willingly give up his pot of gold with no chance of stealing it back unless his very life was at stake. And for all of the inconvenience Kelsey had caused him, Mickey knew that the elf would not harm him.

"Not an easy task," the leprechaun said again.

"If the task was easy, I would have taken the trouble myself," Kelsey replied evenly, though a twitch in one